Knights coach Adam O'Brien is believed to be toying with the idea of handing teenage English fullback Bailey Hodgson his NRL debut against the Warriors on Saturday if Kalyn Ponga does not fully recover in time from a groin tear that has sidelined him for the past five weeks.
The cavalry is returning for Newcastle this week with halfback Mitchell Pearce, prop David Klemmer and winger Hymel Hunt all back for the Warriors clash at McDonald Jones Stadium.
They were again sorely missed as the Knights fell to South Sydney 24-10 at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Newcastle fought hard with the Saifiti brothers, Jacob and Daniel, both outstanding. But after trialing just 12-10 at halftime, the Knights failed to trouble the scorer in the second half.
The defeat leaves Newcastle [10 pts] in 14th place on the premiership ladder, ahead of only Brisbane and the Bulldogs. They are currently just two points out of the top eight but will be four points adrift if the 8th-placed Dragons beat the Dogs today.
O'Brien said he is very hopeful Ponga will also be given the all clear to play and at this stage, intends to name him in his 21-man squad tomorrow. But it may not be until later in the week before a final decision is made on the star fullback.
"Junior [Pearce], Klem and Hymel will all be back and KP is certainly very close so we are hopeful he gets through a week of training and is right to go as well," O'Brien said.
O'Brien refused to speculate on the make-up of his squad for the Warriors but there are suggestions Tex Hoy could be in the firing line again after a disappointing performance against the Rabbitohs even if Ponga is ruled out.
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That may potentially open the door for Hodgson, who was again impressive for the Knights in their NSW Cup win over Souths.
But O'Brien is conservative by nature and whether he is prepared to throw the 18-year-old out there in such a high-pressured position after just three lower grade games for the club remains to be seen.
Hunt will return on the wing and partner centre Kurt Mann on the Knights' troublesome right side with Enari Tuala expected to move from the right wing to left centre following Bradman Best's ankle injury.
Pearce will partner Jake Clifford in the halves with Connor Watson returning to the bench.
With the Saifiti brothers combining so well as starting frontrowers against South Sydney, it won't surprise if O'Brien retains them in the roles and brings Klemmer back from suspension off the bench.
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